Every time I see the Kansas Secterary of State, Chris Kobach grinning and crowing about how easy it is for everybody to obtain necessary identification to vote, I think of this story….
It’s a story about a young, homeless man we’ll call “Don” (not his real name). About a year or so ago, I met Don when he came to the dinner the church I was pastoring served every Friday to the homeless and needy. He was a pleasant, rather shy, thin young man. He had fled New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and somehow ended up being laid off and jobless and on the streets in Hutchinson, Kansas. As I talked to him and asked if there were any way I could help him, he asked if I could help him get a driver’s license in Kansas. He had a recent job offer, but he was required to have a Driver’s License to be hired and the only picture I.D. he had was a Louisiana Driver’s License that had expired a couple of years previous to the current time and when it expired he had no money to renew it.
Actually Don had several problems: First, he had no permanent address to give—the streets of Hutchinson, Kansas would not qualify. I had the solution to that problem—we could use the church’s address as his permanent address. Second, and more serious, to get a Driver’s License from Kansas required a current picture I.D., a birth certificate, or a passport. That was a problem, as Kansas would not accept Don’s Louisiana Driver’s License as picture identification. So we sent to Louisiana to get his birth certificate, sending the fee and the necessary paperwork, including his old Louisiana Driver’s License. Back came the reply, minus the fee sent, that they couldn’t furnish a birth certificate without a picture I.D. that was current, like a Kansas Driver’s License. Here’s the problem: to get a Driver’s License in Kansas, Don needed a birth certificate or passport, etc., but to get the birth certificate from Louisiana, he had to have a valid picture I.D. from Kansas. They wouldn’t accept his old Louisiana Driver’s License that had expired as picture i.d. for his birth certificate.! In a nutshell—no birth certificate, no driver’s license in Kansas—-no Kansas Driver’s License, no birth certificate in Louisiana. It was an impasse that all my letters and phone calls could not overcome.
The last time I heard from Don he was in Nebraska, had a job offer–again depending on a driver’s license, and called to see if I had been able to break the legal Gordian Knot—-I was so sorry to have to tell this young man that I had not been able to get his birth certificate!! It wasn’t a problem of the bureaucracy, it was a problem of the laws passed.
This barrier to re-entry to our society is only one of many that the homeless face. Don didn’t just want to get his I.D. to vote, he needed a driver’s license so he could work!!
Don is one of many, many faceless, nameless, homeless people in the United States. We should be ashamed!!